I’ve missed doing character studies, and since I’m reading Way of Kings in preparation for the release of Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer, I thought I’d study one of those characters. Since I’m waiting for Oathbringer, I thought Dalinar deserved center stage.
NOTE: I’m doing this study only on Dalinar in his role in WoK. Please read at your own risk. While I won’t intentionally reveal every plot item I can remember at the moment, I may discuss some things that might take some of the fun out of it for you.
Dalinar is a sympathetic character. He does a lot of things to make people like him. He’s honorable, which is interesting for his arc, and he’s also a loving father and man of pride. Sanderson does a great job showing Dalinar’s efforts. None are more obvious than his interaction with his oldest son Adolin and his dead brother’s widow, Navani. When these characters are together, we see how Dalinar struggles with his conflict. We see how much he wants to be a man of honor and how much strain it puts on his old life.
This is what I want to hone in on for this character study. A character’s interaction with other characters can be 1) a point of conflict and 2) a way to display a character’s personality.
A point of conflict: I think this is the most fascinating aspect of Dalinar’s story in WoK. Dalinar’s desire to follow the code and unite the princedoms is a big shift from the drunken, unconscious man we meet in the beginning of the book. With Adolin we see the conflict Dalinar has to face on his own: Is he crazy, or are his visions really from the Almighty. We also see a strained relationship between a father and the son who idolizes the man his father used to be. Adolin loves his father, but he’s afraid Dalinar is losing (or has lost) his mind. He wants his father to be the mythic warrior, but his father seems to be pulling further away from that old part of his life, and Adolin grows concerned. Even when Adolin finally gets his opinion heard, he then regrets how his father reacts to that information, thus showing us more how much Adolin idolizes Dalinar.
Display a character’s personality: With Navani, we see a different aspect of his struggle. Navani is aggressive in her pursuit of Dalinar, and Dalinar wants her, but at one point in the book he explains that he can’t expect more of his men if he succumbs to his own (arguably inappropriate) desires.
Throw in the visions and the mystery of their origin, and Dalinar shows himself to be an incredibly sympathetic character, who proactively works to resolve his conflicts. Navani is an exception to this. Through most of WoK, Dalinar avoids that conflict. This displays his weakness and how much he wants to give in. He’ll fight dozens of armed opponents. He’ll face his former friend in a unforgiving political arena. He’ll even face his oldest son, and that son’s sadness seeing a respected man possibly going insane. But, if Navani so much as walks in a room, he’s looking for the nearest escort or exit he can find. This shows us it’s harder for him to deny his affection for her than it is to even discuss his sanity or trust an old friend.
Dalinar has what K.M. Weiland’s Creating Character Arcs calls a neutral change arc. Dalinar doesn’t fall into despair (though he’s tempted) and he doesn’t learn a perception altering truth. (For those who’ve read the book, yes, he learned an important secret, but it didn’t change his personality). Dalinar is a pillar. His dedication to the code and honor change those around him (his son and even Kaladin). Neutral arcs are frowned upon these days (in my own egotistical opinion), but I think that’s because they’re so very rarely done correctly. You see, Dalinar doesn’t change, but his (as Weiland would put it) “belief in his truth” makes him an example for others to follow.
This arc is effective not just because of an interesting opponent (Sadeas), but also (and in my opinion more so) because of Adolin and Navani, who provide the most stress and challenge to his known truth (his faith in the code and adherence to honor). This arc is made sympathetic because they care about Dalinar. If everyone was against Dalinar (as Sadeas is), he’d look like nothing more than some jerk being high and mighty. Sadeas points this out near the 70-percent mark of the book. However, Sanderson gives us two compelling characters who love Dalinar and want to believe in him. Their doubts are what show his strength, and as their faith in him grows, so does the reader’s.
If you haven’t read Way of Kings or Words of Radiance (the first two books of the Starlight Archive), you’re really missing out on some great reading. I like taking a step back and analyzing a character, but I’m reading this book for the third time because it’s just that good.
Thanks for reading,